Torrie Nickel

Torrie Nickel

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“It all comes down to the fact that Western professors are very good at noticing when someone can excel,” says Nickel. “They see the possibility in someone and they foster and take people under their wings.”

Torrie Nickel ’16, ’18 is willing to do whatever it takes to pursue new opportunities.

“I really care about what I do,” Torrie said. “I’m very intentional.”

To that end, the 2018 graduate of Western’s master’s program in Gallery Management and Exhibits Specialization carries a very meaningful physical reminder that her actions, as well as those of others, have consequences—a tattoo on the inside of her arm that reads “What you do matters.”

In 2017, Torrie had the opportunity of a lifetime. She spent the summer as the Design and Productions Intern with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There, she shadowed museum professionals and learned everything she could.

She assisted with lighting for permanent exhibits, installed vinyls, helped repair exhibits, and was assigned a unique challenge—find a way to suspend over 500 reproduced immigration documents in the air inside a six foot tall case.

“We had to figure out how to make these papers float in a convincing way,” Torrie said. She researched various approaches, hosted meetings with curators and reviewed a variety of conceptual drawings and mockups. Today the display case featuring 500 immigration documents is up as part of the Holocaust Museum’s exhibition, “Americans and the Holocaust.”

Torrie values the freedom and responsibility she was given during her internship and feels she walked away with more than job experience.

“It changed my whole mindset on life,” she said.

The Museum has a motto: What you do matters. Staff and visitors are urged to consider how they can learn from the Holocaust and ensure hatred and evil of that caliber never happen again.

“Every small action, every involuntary gesture, every comment, every decision evokes a set of morals or an image that can affect other people. If we could only remember that how we act does matter, maybe we would all try to act with more kindness,” Torrie said. “The message of the Holocaust should forever be alive and relevant.”

When her internship came to a close, she chose to have the motto tattooed on her arm where victims of the Holocaust had their numbers tattooed.

The opportunity to take part in this life-affirming career experience was put in motion by Western Art Instructor Thaddeus Smith. Torrie earned her undergraduate degree in 2016 with majors in Studio Art and Outdoor Recreation & Education, and a minor in English.

Professors were eager to help her in all areas.

“I always felt they saw something in me that I hadn’t even recognized yet,” Torrie said. “Western professors are special that way.”

She owes a specific debt of gratitude to Professors Heather Orr, Brooke Moran and Thaddeus Smith.

Smith’s mentoring led her to a special role as an assistant within Western’s Art Department and eventually to a seat on the hiring committee for the director of the newly-formed M.A. in Art, Gallery Management and Exhibits Specialization.

Torrie was excited to continue her journey at Western and pursue opportunities beyond those that were available to her as a student.

“As I went through the hiring process, I saw what the program was going to become and I knew I wanted to do that,” Torrie said.

When Torrie arrived at Western in 2012, she was hoping it would be a place where she could start over.

“I was homeschooled until middle school and very shy in high school,” she said. “I wanted a safe environment where I could create a new identity and build my leadership skills.”

Naturally, she had a plan. “I started small by trying to eat with different people in the cafeteria.”

She also participated in extracurricular activities like the Archery Club, Urban Gaming Club, Christian Challenge and the Climbing Club.

Torrie emphasized that participating in clubs at Western not only helped her overcome her shyness, but also introduced her to friends with whom she is still close.

Her major in Outdoor Recreation & Education also challenged Torrie to grow beyond her comfort zone. A lifelong lover of the outdoors, Torrie was interested in how the program helped people become leaders. She recalled one assignment required students to choose and confront one of their biggest fears. Torrie, who grew up Christian, had a fear of confronting other religions.

“I wanted to understand different philosophies, but I was scared it might cause me to question the doctrine and faith that had been such an influential part of my life growing up,” she said.

She crafted a series of challenges for herself to step into new and uncomfortable situations, including attending a tarot card reading and participating in a ceremonial sweat lodge.

Western was a place that was safe for Torrie to change.

“I came in ready to take challenges,” she said.

She wanted to become someone who could be a leader in any situation whether in the arts or outdoors.

“I wanted to be able to make change happen,” Torrie said. “That was my biggest goal.”

Today Torrie is carving out her place in the museum world. She holds part-time positions at two prestigious Colorado institutions—the History Colorado Center and the Denver Art Museum.

At the History Colorado Center, Torrie works in collections and registration. The Center recently moved a large exhibition from an auxiliary museum and it is Torrie’s job to clean each object, determine its provenance, then write reports recommending what should remain in the collection and what could be deaccessioned. After that, she labels each object, identifies a physical home for it within the Center’s collection and enters it in the official database.

At the Denver Art Museum, Torrie also works as a collections assistant but in the collections department. Her job is to clean anything on exhibit with the exception of especially difficult or fragile objects. She also helps move objects from off-site locations.

Her job is becoming particularly exciting because a Monet exhibit is scheduled to come to the Museum soon.

“I want to be in on it. I want to handle and transport a Monet,” Torrie said.

She is eager to enhance her collections and maintenance knowledge, learning how to safely transport art of this magnitude, how climate control will be used to protect these objects and more.

“I’m a behind the scenes person. I like the ‘get stuff done’ jobs,” she said.

In just two years, Torrie has acquired experience in museums of all sizes at the school, local, state and even national level. There’s no doubt, her planning and care for her work has made this possible.

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